Sermon

February 28, 2021 – The Rev. Deacon Elena Barnum

By March 3, 2021No Comments

The Second Sunday in Lent

Watch the Sermon Here

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Romans 4:13-25
Mark 8:31-38
Psalm 22:22-30

If we lose our life for the sake of the Gospel, then we will save our life

Who or what are we listening to these days . . . how do we discern how much information is enough . . . and its source – where is it coming from ?
How do we keep our balance . . . particularly our spiritual balance which is an essential, stabilizing force at the center of all that swirls around us.
A concept – or image – I’ve found really helpful in this pandemic time is that a ship in turbulent waters needs to drop anchor in a safe place – and that that can mean many things . . . for a ship . . . & for us . . .

I grew up in a small coastal town south of Boston. There was only one sandy beach and everything else was rocky coastline where frequently rough surf had been carving away land for generations, leaving behind huge cliffs that were too jagged and unstable to walk anywhere close to the edges . . . the only people allowed to walk those cliffs were two members of the small remaining Native American Satuit Indians of the Wampanaug Tribe. Elder Fox and his daughter, Lily, were part of our coastal oversight team. Everyone in that town . . . all ages . . . were taught about the tides and the different categories of storms and what preparations needed to be made.
I can still remember, as a small child, asking my father about a possible incoming storm . . . how big . . . how strong . . . how many days to prepare . . . and he would say, “Elder Fox and Lily are still on the cliffs reading the water. They will tell us and the Coast Guard what to expect.” Every child already knew what it meant to “read the water” because Elder Fox and Lily would teach all the children how to see and hear and smell and feel the many shifts and changes and messages in the sea and the wind and the sky and the birds and the scrubby gorse and wild sea roses that tried to claim secure ground in any deep cuts in the cliffs. Elder Fox and Lily were our storm forecasters. They and all the members of their Tribe were greatly respected. It was understood by all ages that we lived on what was once their land and that they were gracious enough to help us learn how best to live together in this place. The rough sea had taken land from almost all land-owning families – originally mostly farmers – and fairness in how this was managed was a common goal. No property or other town decisions were made without Tribal consideration and approval. It was considered both disrespectful and unwise to disregard their counsel.
And because this tiny shore town with its one sandy beach was the closest land point to France, during World War II all the other members of the Wompanoag tribes still remaining in that area – with many already enlisted and serving overseas – were key to the “Invasion Defense Operations” unknown to most residents until many years later.

One of the possible preparations we children learned is that when a strong hurricane is expected, because of the wild waves buffeting a large ship, that ship may be unable to enter the safety of a harbor. And any large ships already at anchor in the harbor would need to be unmoored and brought out into enough open ocean so that they too could have sufficient space to ride out those waves.
A smaller boat able to carry a larger ship’s anchor would be used to ferry the anchors through the breakers into the harbor. When those anchors are dropped there, the larger ships are secure even though still in rough waters.
If you are a boat person . . . and maybe even if you aren’t . . . it might be obvious to you that this form of heroic anchor support in potentially dangerous and often rapidly changing conditions requires a lot of experience in assessing what may be possible and at what cost . . . !

Our Scripture today is full of God’s call to all of us to be exactly the kind of supportive, clarifying anchors we need . . . if only we can let God in . . . intentionally seeking the time . . . the space . . . the stillness . . . to listen to God . . . and to one another . . . something we have come to know in this past year in much greater depth through our online daily prayer and small group opportunities. When these practices are a regular, intentional part of our daily lives, we will be much more likely to hear God in the midst of stormy, chaotic times.

And God’s not subtle, so if you are having trouble discerning God’s direction for you – pause . . . affirm God’s Presence with you . . . ask God to remove / dissolve whatever gets in the way of your listening to God . . . and give thanks . . . Let God’s promises be your hope . . . an essential anchor in stormy times.

Our Old Testament passage this morning is a wonderful example of God’s faithfulness when, not for the first time, God is telling Abram that Abram “will bring forth many nations . . . and kings . . . “ and that Sarai, Abram’s wife, will give birth to Abram’s son and that she too “shall give rise to nations; [that] kings of many people will come from her.”
Now Abram is 99 years old and Sarai is 90!
God is renewing a Covenant with Abram made some years ago when God foretold Abram, then in his 80s, that Abram would bring forth many generations.
But Abram, known for his “radical” trust in the power of God’s promises, allowed himself to be tempted by Sarai, who, at that late stage in her life, seemed unable to conceive and give birth. Sarai convinced Abram that he should lie with her servant, Hagar, so that Abram could have an heir . . . Sarai at that time not able to trust in God’s promises and Abram following her bidding . . .
And yet, God is now renewing and extending the Covenant saying, “Walk before me and be blameless.” . . . I “will make you exceedingly numerous.”
Scripture tells us that wonderfully faithful Abram’s response was that “then Abram fell on his face; . . .” which is probably what it looks like when you are 99 years old and stumbling to get on your knees as God is forgiving you and your wife for breaking a holy Covenant and then being generously forgiven and restored . . . so restored that God gives you new names:
Abram becomes Abraham which means “ancestor of a multitude” and Sarai becomes Sarah which means “princess.” God is rebranding Abram and Sarai to become who God has always intended them to be.

In our New Testament passage Paul, in his letter to the Romans, is using Abraham’s story to show them . . . and us . . . that all matters of salvation and righteousness are God’s business – meaning we must accept God’s direction and allow God to be God. (God was not having a problem with Abram’s or Sarai’s age)
This allowing God to be God may be the most difficult essential practice required from us all . . . letting God initiate / inspire / command and promise . . . strengthening our faith so that we can realize God’s promises which come to us through our faith . . . not through the law . . .
When we can have the humility to surrender each day . . . without trying to negotiate changes . . . attempting to live into these gifts from God . . . these promises proclaimed throughout Scripture . . . we will recognize God’s direction so much more clearly than when we are grasping at truths in and through the chaos of the world . . . and particularly when so much of the chaos in our world can cause us to encounter Scripture being used to justify enormous denial, prejudice and brutality . . .
We are required to be very cautious to whom and to what we listen so that we are able to recognize and respect God’s Living Word for us all . . . for us all . . . !
In this Lenten time it is important for us to empty ourselves before God and ask to be cleansed from all that intrudes in our relationship with God . . . And then ask to be filled with God’s Grace that we may become ever more fully who God has Created and dreamed us to be.

In our Gospel today, Mark is giving us the first of three Passion predictions each of which is followed by a story that shows how reluctant the disciples were to take up their Cross and follow Jesus. Peter, always so eager to step up . . . to do something – even if it’s right – has just identified Jesus as “the Messiah” and Jesus tells the disciples not to tell anyone about him. Then Jesus tells them what is to come . . . that He will be tortured and rejected and killed and will rise again in three days. Peter, true to form, takes Jesus aside, and like a good campaign manager, begins to rebuke Jesus . . . “That’s not going to happen . . .You don’t want to say that . . .” and Jesus, turning to face all the disciples as he rebukes Peter, says, “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus tells them all that Peter is setting his mind “on human things” not on divine things . . . that Peter is speaking as the world speaks in contradiction to God’s Word for them all.
And then Jesus addresses the crowd and tells them that if any of them want to become his followers they must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him . . . that those who want to save their life will lose it and those who lose their life for his sake, and for the sake of the Gospel, will save it.
A challengingly clear example of the spiritual formation practice of letting God be God . . . of taking up our cross and trusting God’s promises to guide us on God’s path for each and all of us . . .

I want to return now to a Native American story about self-awareness which is so important for us in our discernment, particularly during this Lenten time . . .
One of the Sacred Ground Epiphany gifts for me was reconnecting to the wonderful Native presence in my childhood and the later years when, as an adult, I was blessed to serve among Native tribes in New Mexico. It is a joy to renew this rich spiritual wisdom and to have its history – painful as it may be – becoming known and it’s voices being heard and empowered alongside the voices of so many other people of color in this land – so very nourishing for all our souls . . .
Steven Charleston, Native American Choctaw Indian, and retired Episcopal Bishop of Alaska, refers to Lent as “the Christian season of mindfulness.”

This story I’m about to share with you has made its way into our culture for many years and may sound familiar to some of you.
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life:
“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.” It is a terrible fight, and it is between two wolves. A grey wolf and an amber wolf. The grey wolf is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”
“The amber wolf is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.
The same fight is going on inside you, grandson – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf will win?”
You might have heard the story ends like this: The old Cherokee simply replies, “The one you feed.”
In the Cherokee world, however, the story ends this way:
“If you feed them right, they both win.”
“You see, grandson, if I only choose to feed the amber wolf, the grey one will be hiding around every corner waiting for me to become distracted or weak and jump to get the attention he craves. He will always be angry and still fight the amber wolf. However, if I acknowledge him, he is happy, and the amber wolf is happy, and we all win. For the grey wolf has many other qualities – tenacity, courage, fearlessness, strong-willed and excellent strategic thinking – that I have need of at times and that the amber wolf lacks. However, the amber wolf has compassion, caring, strength and the ability to recognize what is in the best interest of all.
“You see, son, the amber wolf needs the grey wolf at his side. To feed only one would starve the other and they will become uncontrollable. To feed and care for both means they will serve you well and do nothing that is not a part of something more significant, something good, something of life. Feed them both, and there will be no more internal struggle for your attention. Moreover, when there is no battle inside, you can listen to the voices of more profound knowledge that will guide you in choosing what is right in every circumstance. Peace, my son, is the Cherokee mission in life. A man or a woman who has peace inside has everything. A man or a woman who is pulled apart by the war inside him or her has nothing.
“How you choose to interact with the opposing forces within you will determine your life. Starve one or the other or guide them both.”
(I have a note from one of my Native women colleagues. She wants me to be sure to tell you that there is also a women’s version of this story where a Grandmother is teaching a granddaughter and the wolves are female wolves . . .)

In closing, I want to share with you this prayer from Bishop Charleston which he titles “An Ode to the Spirit.”
In the peaceful places of my life, wherever I may find them, I will search for you. In the midst of the crowd, I will look for you. In the sound of laughter and weeping, I will listen for you. You are around me, within me, beside me, no matter where I am. You are everywhere at once and always. When I go up to the highest point of joy I know, you are waiting for me. When I fall to my lowest point, you catch me. When I am alone in the deep night, you hold me. You are forever, in all places, in every moment. You let me go at the right time. You release me to the open air. You trust me. And I, in all that I do, and say, and believe, trust you. I have since the beginning. I will until the end. You are my creator, my simple truth, what I believe and why I believe, the sum total of my life’s experience. I have made my choice and pledged my love. I am in this with you, in every way I can be, for as long as I can be, until your mystery surrounds me and the next dream begins.

AMEN

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